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Updated: April 11, 2012 19:23 IST

She broke convention with her art

Pushpa Achanta
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A painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. Photo: Special Arrangement
A painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. Photo: Special Arrangement

She is considered to be one of the earliest successful women painters. But her bold work and rebellious nature drew much criticism in 16th century Florence, which, perhaps, had some trouble accepting a determined and capable woman. This was Artemisia Gentileschi, a highly talented lady who defied tradition by painting the male body in its naked form in the same stride as she drew historical figures and religious scenes.

Artemisia was born in Rome in 1593 to Orazio Gentileschi, an acclaimed artist who recognised her talent and passion.

Troubled relationship

Artemisia, a 1997 film by French filmmaker Agnes Merlet highlights the troubled relationship between 17-year-old Artemisia, her overbearing father, and painter Agostino Tassi, her sexually exploitative tutor.

It was screened as part of the ongoing ‘Desi—Pardesi' film festival on artists and their art at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore.

Starting with creating paintings of her breasts, Artemisia moved on to depicting male nudes. One of the first men she convinced to model for her was her friend Fulvio, a fisherman. This shocked Orazio and the religious establishment, but the Artemisia of the film says, “I paint for myself, not for sales.”

As art academies of the time rejected her, her father appointed Tassi to teach Artemisia, which lead to an unexpected rift in their relationships.

Artistic freedom or inaccuracy?

Merlet's absorbing narrative ends with Tassi indicting himself for a crime that Artemisia claims he did not commit. Criticised for distorting the truth, the director seemingly admitted her inclination not to typecast Artemisia as a victim, but as a more complex character.

Italian Valentina Cervi, who was 21 when she played Artemisia, is natural in her action, especially in the poignant court scenes and verbal exchanges with Orazio (award-winning French actor Michel Serrault in a subdued yet powerful role). Popular Serbian star Miki Manojlovic is realistic as Tassi.

The music is by Krishna Levy, originally from Delhi.

“Irrespective of the facts of the story, bringing such good and rare films to the public is important. The flick candidly shows Artemisia's courage amid the regressive attitudes prevalent towards women in Europe then,” said a member of the audience.

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